Developed a fast tool to detect patulin toxin in apples and its derivatives

Scientists at the Instituto de Agroquímica y Tecnología de Alimentos (IATA) have developed and patented the first immunoanalytical method for detecting patulin, a toxin that can be found in apples and, therefore, in derivatives products such as apple juices, purées and baby food. Two companies will commercialize the method.

Patulin is a secondary metabolite produced by several fungi species in apples. Image: PixabayScientists at the Agroquímica y Tecnología de Alimentos (IATA), a centre of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), with the collaboration of the Universitat de València, have developed a new and sensitive method for the fast detection of patulin in food products.

This toxin is produced by several fungi species in apples, therefore it can be found in derivative products, such as the baby food products made on apples. This is the first immunoanalytical method for patulin based on antibodies, which are more specific and less expensive than other techniques.

Patulin is a secondary metabolite produced by several fungi species in apples and, specially, by Penicillium expansum, a fungus that causes substantial losses in fruit crops.

This toxin is often present in apples and derivative products. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the acute symptoms produced in animals by this toxin include harm in the liver, spleen and kidneys, as well as toxicity for the immune system. In human being, also nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances and vomits have been described. This toxin is considered genotoxic (capable of causing genetic harm) but its carcinogenic potential has not been demonstrated until now.

The European Food Safety Authority established strict maximum levels for patulin presence in apples (25 micrograms per kilogram), juices and other products (50 micrograms per kilogram) and, specially, for baby food (10 micrograms per kilogram). Patulin contamination worrying from a toxicological point of view and also an indicator of poor quality of the raw products.

Traditional methods to detect this toxin are based on chromatography, which require complex devices. On the contrary, immunoanalytical methods are based on antibodies, being therefore a less complex procedure.

It had not been possible until now to obtain antibodies to recognize patulin because its small size and high reactivity. The development by this scientific team at the IATA-CSIC and Universitat de València is the first immunoassay for patulin.

Fast, simple and low-cost

“The obtention of monoclonal antibodies with high affinity for patulin had become a pursued goal during the last years”, says Josep Vicent Mercader Badia, who has led the research at the IATA.

 “This is the first technology that enables a fast screening and quantification of patulin in apple extracts and derivatives. This development will certainly help to reduce the presence of this mycotoxin in food products”, asserts.

Immunoanalytical tools are fast, simple and low-cost methods for the detection of mycotoxins in food industry. They are very specific and sensitive and, due to its high versatility, can be adapted to small portable devices, even making possible the use of mobile phones to read the outcome.  

International commercialization

The companies Abraxis-Eurofins (USA) and R-Biopharm Rhône (Scotland), world leaders in the field of immunodiagnostics in food, will exploit worldwide this patent, which will allow them to be the only providers of rapid methods for the analysis of patulin in food. The objective is to commercialize the technology developed at IATA worldwide using different immunochemical methods of analysis.

The Food Analytical Immunotechnology group of the IATA-CSIC has extensive experience in the development of rapid analytical methods based on antibodies for the detection of agrochemical residues (pesticides, growth regulators, additives and antibiotics), all kinds of toxins and organic contaminants. in food and environmental samples.